From I-84 (Exit 209) in Pendleton, take Hwy 395 south for 5 miles and turn left (east) into McKay Creek NWR. Proceed through the gate, which is open from Mar. 1 to Sep. 30 and closed the rest of the year. The northern portion of the refuge is closed to public access from Oct. 1 through the end of Feb. At the bottom of the hill, continue left for 0.3 mile to McKay Dam and the main boat launch. A right turn at the bottom of the hill accesses the west side of the reservoir to the end of the road (2.7 miles). This road has several pullouts where you can park and look for birds in the riparian habitat along the lake shore and scope the reservoir.
To reach the east side of reservoir, return to Hwy 395 and turn left (south). Go about 2.9 miles and turn left (east) onto the frontage road and proceed south 0.3 mile to Spring Creek Road. Go left (east) on Spring Creek Road for 1.0 mile and turn left (north) onto Shaw Road. Go north about 1 mile to the parking lot to the left; this accesses the SE part of the refuge. Another 0.4 mile north on Shaw Road (intersection with Holmes Road), there is parking lot on the right (east). Another 0.2 mile north on Shaw Road is a parking pullout on the left.Directions
Habitat and Birds
McKay Dam and Reservoir were established in the late 1920s as part of the Umatilla Project for the purpose of providing irrigation water to farmlands in the Hermiston, Echo, and Stanfield areas. The refuge was established in 1929.
Best birding is from late Mar. through May. The riparian vegetation along the west side of the reservoir attracts migrating songbirds, and the reservoir is a resting place for flocks of waterfowl in Mar. and Apr. A scope is needed to view birds on the reservoir. Although a few migrating shorebirds may be seen in spring, best shorebirding has been in Aug. and Sep. The numbers of shorebirds using McKay in the fall, however, has decreased considerably over the past 10 years. Part of the decrease is due to changes in water management in the reservoir that retains more water later into summer (less mudflats in Aug. and Sep). Shorebirds were mostly using the mudflats at the south end of the reservoir, and a few still do. When the water level is low enough, walk down to the water to check out the shorebird flats.
McKay is a good place to find Clark’s Grebe from late Apr. through Aug. Look for them in the flock of Western Grebes. Eared Grebes, Horned Grebes, and a few Common Loons use the reservoir during spring migration. Rufous, Calliope, and Anna’s Hummingbirds have been seen here, but Black-chinned is the only breeding hummingbird. From mid-May through mid-July, watch for males “posted up” on the tops of bare branches that overlook their territories. In May, a few Franklin’s Gulls and even fewer Black Terns might be seen foraging on or over the reservoir during spring migration. Watch for migrating Gray Flycatchers from mid-Apr. to mid-May and again from late Aug. to mid-Sep. A Broad-winged Hawk was seen here on May 28, 2022. Ross’s Goose has been seen here in Mar. 2020 and Apr. 2021. Good numbers of Bullock’s Orioles, Eastern Kingbirds, and many other songbirds breed on the refuge.